Evan Vucci / AP

Crowds gather for 20th anniversary of Million Man March

Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan leads anniversary gathering, calling for 'Justice or Else'

Thousands of black rights activists from across the nation gathered Saturday on the National Mall to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March and call for policing reforms and changes in black communities.

Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who spearheaded the original march, led the anniversary gathering Saturday at the Capitol called the "Justice or Else" march.

In a speech at the event, Farrakhan said that black men and women should foresake foul language and violence against each other. He also praised the protesters behind Black Lives Matter movement, launched in response to the killings of black Americans like Michael Brown, the unarmed black teen shot dead by a white police officer on Aug. 9, 2014 in Missouri.

“We are fighting for Michael Brown, Jr. and demanding justice for all families who have lost loved ones to police killings. Who are you fighting for?” Farrakhan said in a Facebook post ahead of Saturday's demonstration. 

Farrakhan called Black Lives Matter protesters the next leaders of the civil rights movement and called on older leaders to support them. 

"What good are we if we don't prepare young people to carry the torch of liberation to the next step?" he said. 

At the march, the families of several unarmed African-American men and women killed in encounters with law enforcement encouraged the crowd to continue to speak out against police misconduct.

"We will not continue to stand by and not say anything anymore," said Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old black teen shot dead in Sanford, Florida on Feb. 26, 2012.  

March participants spoke of their sense of purpose in guaranteeing black Americans rights for which many have fought for generations. 

Nate Smith, 70, of Oakland, California, attended the 1963 March on Washington and the 1995 Million Man March and called his participation in Saturday's event a "pilgrimage." 

"It's something that I need to do," Smith told The Associated Press. "It's like a pilgrimage for me, and something I think all black people need to do."

The original march on Oct. 16, 1995, brought hundreds of thousands to Washington, D.C. to pledge to improve their lives, their families and their communities. Women, whites and other ethnic minorities were not invited to the original march, but organizers said all were welcome Saturday.

The National Park Service estimated the attendance at the original march to be around 400,000, but subsequent counts by private organizations say the number was at least double that. The National Park Service has refused to give crowd estimates on Mall activities since.

President Barack Obama, who attended the first Million Man March, will be in California on Saturday.

Two decades after the original march, black Americans continue to face problems with employment and law enforcement.

The unemployment rate for African-American men in October 1995 was 8.1 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In September 2015, it was 8.9 percent.

In 1994, law enforcement agencies arrested 3.5 million African Americans, comprising 30.9 percent of all arrests, the FBI said. In 2013, law enforcement arrested 2.5 million African Americans, which made up 28 percent of all arrests, the latest FBI data shows.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

Related News

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter


Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter